Shakespeare famously penned, “A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yeah, but if it was called a “vomit bush,” I doubt many folks would stoop down and take in its fragrance. Names mean something, particularly in the world of sports where names are careful marketing choices that will draw a connection between the team and its home city. “Steelers” is synonymous with Pittsburgh, as are the Cowboys with Dallas, the Mets (short for Metropolitans) with New York, or the Rockies with Colorado. Team names tie the team to its city.
Franchise movement, however, has created some painful mismatches between city and team name over the years, creating one of my biggest peeves in sports. This disconnect can be corrected, however, resulting in a newborn harmony and even some additional merchandising dollars for the teams involved.
Teams have successfully moved and adopted new names to fit their new cities. When the Art Modell’s team left Cleveland, they left the old “Browns” (if you’ve ever been to Cleveland, you know why that name fits) and adopted the Raven in honor of Baltimore native, Edgar Allan Poe. Bud Adams realized there was no oil in Nashville and changed his franchise to the more alliterative Tennessee Titans. Lamar Hunt realized the Kansas City Texans would just be stupid, so he chose the Chiefs as the new franchise moniker. See, it can be done.
This all started with Walter O’Malley’s move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Whether O’Malley thought LA would eventually develop some sort of streetcar system I don’t know, but there are no trolleys to dodge in Los Angeles like there were in Brooklyn. He should have brokered a deal with rival owner and fellow west-coast émigré Horace Stoneham. At least there are cable cars to dodge in San Francisco and LA could have taken the more generic Giants identity.
O”Malley isn’t the only misguided LA owner though. How many lakes are their in Los Angeles? Were they counting the La Brea Tar Pits when they moved the club from Minneapolis? Yes, LA Lakers has an alliterative quality, but it’s terribly inappropriate for the city. How about the LA Smog? Too negative? I don’t think Cleveland has a trademark on “Browns” so maybe LA could borrow that.
The past few weeks we’ve been privy to the story of the surprising playoff run of the Memphis Grizzlies. Grizzlies in Memphis? That name worked great in Vancouver. Unfortunately, there were more bears interested in the team than people. Memphis is known for Elvis, blues music, ribs, the Mississippi River, but not Grizzly Bears. It’s still time for the good people of Memphis to act before they get stuck forever like LA did with the Lakers.
Perhaps the most ridiculous name in sports, however, belongs to the Utah Jazz. Really? When I think of the jazz scene, Salt Lake City and a bunch of Mormons grooving to some Charlie Parker is first in my mind. What were they thinking? When the team moved from New Orleans, why didn’t they borrow the football team’s name, the Saints? That would be great for Utah. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution.
Since New Orleans has another NBA franchise, David Stern should simply enforce a trade between Utah and New Orleans. New Orleans would get their “Jazz” name back and Utah could take “Hornets.” As far as I know, hornets aren’t indigenous to a particular locale. This would be a win-win for all involved.
It’s just common sense and marketing genius. Realign the team names just as leagues do for geography from time to time. It will take away the farce that is the Mormon Tabernacle Jazz Quintet and re-energize apparel sales as fans equip themselves with their new jerseys and hats to support their team.